Tribal Tattoos and the Politics of Cultural Appropriation Claims
22 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2020
Date Written: July 19, 2020
This article explores the nature of cultural appropriation claims as a statement of possession over cultural property and a performative utterance that resists oppression. A close study of the aesthetics and ethics of tribal tattoo imagery, and in particular the tattoo created by artist S. Victor Whitmill for former world heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson, is used to reflect upon the politics of alleging cultural appropriation. Empirical fieldwork with Māori tā moko artists is used to show that cultural appropriation claims are unstable property claims whose politics exceed the merely possessive. Critical perspectives on performativity expand the inquiry. It is argued that seeking inspiration from the art of the Other, as tribal tattoos do, is problematic – not so much because of the appropriation of cultural property per se but rather because doing so recreates colonial dynamics of demand, desire, and oppression.
Keywords: cultural appropriation, tribal tattoos, ta moko, political theory, performativity, rights claims
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